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Pa. Primary to Test Voter Anger

May 16, 2006

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) _ Pennsylvania voters were setting the stage Tuesday for a battle over Rick Santorum’s U.S. Senate seat and weighing in on state lawmakers who gave themselves a big raise in the dead of night.

Kentucky voters also headed to the primary polls Tuesday to decide lively Democratic contests in at least two congressional districts, and Oregon voters had a final day to say if Gov. Ted Kulongoski or two rivals should be the Democratic nominee.

In Pennsylvania, the race for governor is already set: Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell and his Republican challenger, former Pittsburgh Steelers star Lynn Swann, are both unopposed in Tuesday’s primary.

Santorum’s race, however, has drawn the national Democratic Party’s attention for the No. 3 Senate Republican’s close allegiance with President Bush and outspokenness on issues such as gay marriage and private accounts for Social Security.

Many Democrats voting Tuesday morning emphasized a goal of getting a candidate who could beat Santorum in November. They appeared to be leaning toward state Treasurer Bob Casey, son of the late Democratic Gov. Robert P. Casey.

``I never really cared for (Santorum),″ said Judith Friedl, 55, an answering service operator from suburban Pittsburgh. ``Some of the statements that he’s made are too conservative for me.″

Casey himself is conservative and anti-abortion, which has worried some Democrats in the state. But early polls have had Casey with a double-digit lead over Santorum, and Casey’s rivals for the Democratic nomination, pension lawyer Alan Sandals and college professor Chuck Pennacchio, have trailed him.

Pennsylvania legislators also had reason to keep a close eye on the polls Tuesday.

Last year, the state lawmakers boosted their salaries by up to 54 percent during a dead-of-night vote taken with no public hearing or floor debate. Four months later, after an outcry, they reversed themselves.

Sixty-one incumbents in the 253-member Legislature faced primary challenges Tuesday, the most since 1980, and many of those challengers were recruited by PACleanSweep, a group organized at the peak of the furor to create major turnover in the Legislature.

Two Pennsylvania congressmen also face primary challenges, including Republican Rep. Don Sherwood, who acknowledged a five-year extramarital affair after his mistress sued him, accusing him of choking her at his Capitol Hill apartment. Sherwood’s opponent, Kathy Scott, is a former guidance counselor who has seized on the scandal.

Iraq War veteran Patrick Murphy is hoping to defeat a former county commissioner in a Democratic primary for the right to take on freshman Republican Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick.

In Oregon’s gubernatorial primary, Kulongoski is expected to overcome challenges by former state Treasurer Jim Hill and Peter Sorenson, a county politician. Kulongoski’s opponents say he has not been aggressive in seeking more money for schools and preventing cuts in health programs for the poor.

Three major Republican contenders are also competing to run for governor: former Oregon GOP chairman Kevin Mannix, Portland lawyer Ron Saxton and state Sen. Jason Atkinson.

In Kentucky, an Iraq War veteran and retired Army colonel are seeking to become Democratic candidates for Congress.

Veteran Andrew Horne and political columnist John Yarmuth are among four candidates vying to take on Republican Rep. Anne Northup in a Louisville-area district. In a neighboring district, state Rep. Mike Weaver, a retired Army colonel, is competing to face Republican Rep. Ron Lewis in November.

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